Back in college, whenever I was a bit cramped for entertainment column ideas, or just feeling plain lazy, I would simply do a running diary of my iTunes library on shuffle. (That bastard Chuck Klostermann had the same idea in one his books that predates my column, as he comments on a straight 24 hours spent watching VH1 classic, but I'm going to pretend as if I don't realize I'm reinventing the wheel.) Anyway, from this long preamble, I imagine you know where I'm headed... The links in the entry are to the songs mentioned, when applicable.
1) “December” by Collective Soul. A pretty decent song, but Collective Soul is definitely on my list of “What the hell happened?” bands. For a period in the 1990s, every other song on radio was Collective Soul, either “December” or “Shine” or that either popular song who's name I never remember. Then, they were abruptly never heard from it again.
It wasn't an issue that was solely limited to Collective Soul, as there were a slew of bands that had a couple of hits before vanishing off the face of the Earth. It wasn't a one-hit wonder issue either – Collective Soul is clearly better than bands like Len (“Steal My Sunshine”) or King Missile (“Detachable Penis”).
But along with Toad the Wet Sprocket and Better Than Ezra, it seems like Collective Soul had a hay-day and then vanished, giving way to better bands with staying power (Green Day, The Beastie Boys) and puss rock (The Goo Goo Dolls). My theory, assuming there wasn't something like band tension at work, blames radio DJs. I think more than anyone else, they serve as “tastemakers,” and if you hear the same band or style for a couple of years, four to eight hours a shift for five days a week an entire year, you invariably want new music, even if the audience is still OK with it. It wouldn't surprise me if DJ fatigue is responsible for nuking plenty of bands.
2) “What I Got” by Sublime. Everybody I went to high school with and hung out with knew the lyrics to this song, and it's not like I ran in a crowd obsessed with the song of the moment. Half of them were in a band that's main musical influences were The Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Band... and it was 2002.
But invariably, if this song came on, everybody knew the words. The only other CD that had that status was the blue album by Weezer, which even Mike Smith knew the words to. The lead singer of Sublime, Bradley Nowell, also pulled a Cobain and killed himself before he could make a truly bad album. Or, as I call it, before he could Pearl Jam his band, forcing them to make a bunch of inaccessible, artistic crap that isn't worth listening to.
While some people insist that 40 Oz. To Freedom is a better CD, I think that only applies if you're really into booze or weeed or flashy titles or rebelling against pop sensibilities. From start to finish, Sublime's self-entitled CD is one of the best albums of the 1990s. It is a refined ride that branches a bit into reggae, alternative and hard rock seamlessly.
3) “Smack My Bitch Up” by Prodigy (only a minute available online, unfortunately). The song itself is actually pretty mundane, the mirror opposite of a landmark, great video that was so good that MTV even caved and showed it late at night, even though it had full-frontal nudity, drug usage and vomit. The song features a rhythmic, hypnotic, grinding beat throughout, its best virtue, but the rest is primarily unimaginative techno staples – the droning chorus of “Smack My Bitch Up” and ethereal female singing.
However, like a lot of techno, it makes for a great music video, which follows the day in the life of a British hooligan. You follow the hooligan through cocaine usage, heavy drinking, a bar room fight, vomiting, a strip club and promiscious sex, only for the reveal at the end that the “hooligan” is a woman by a look into the mirror a few seconds before the video ends. A very neat concept video, with some nice touches like breaking up and muting the song with the punches in the bar fight and the effects of the drugs.
4) “What Would You Do?” by City High. Rap one-hit wonders never get as much attention in hindsight as similar rock and pop tracks; I'm not entirely sure why. During the summer of 2001, this song was ridiculously popular. Now, when I mentioned it in passing a few months ago (don't ask me the context, I have no idea), nobody had any idea what I was talking about, even though they were all the same age as me. I realize I have a good mind for pop culture and pop music, but this song probably hit #1 at some point, charted for a long time and had a chorus that was its title.
5) “Some Postman” by The Presidents of the United States of America. Outside of myself and high school and URI friend Bill Bartholomew, I don't know anyone else who loves this band. But I do. Just about any track they've ever done, I'm a big fan of.
This one comes off their ill-fated, most recent album, Love Everybody. I remember giving it a positive review as a college junior or senior, and I was surprised at the time that nobody else even wanted to review it. They were a “name” band that had sent us a free CD, when the usual crap we got was from affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan with horrible names like Holocaust.
In the pantheon of PUSA songs, “Some Postman” is one of my favorites. It combines the usual witty, twisted lyrics – the song is about a demented postman who abducts love letters – with the usual bouncy guitar, bass and drums combination of PUSA. I realize that the band is a bit one-note, but at least that note is freakin' awesome. Always better to shoot for perfection and greatness in a single area as opposed to striving for “balance” and mediocrity.
6) “Here It Goes Again” by OK Go. And oddly enough, I'll end it for now on the band that most reminds me of PUSA. OK Go has more of a hard rock edge, and they are much more popular than PUSA ever was. But I still hear the same sort of rhythmic rock in them that I did in PUSA and other bands I enjoyed while growing up.